Changes Continue Through Our 71 Years

June 22, 2006

Time does bring change.  When I first started at the Players in 1991, we had no TVs on property let alone any reception; there were no cell phones – or phone cards for that matter.

The box office took ticket orders over the phone on order forms and processed each order by hand by pulling patrons’ tickets out of a rack.  Patrons had no idea where they would be sitting until they got here.  We didn’t accept credit cards and the patrons’ bathrooms were in an unsightly shack next to the theater.

Now, when I’m interviewing college students for internship and staff positions they inquire about cell phone reception and where they can plug their laptops in to check their e-mail or if we have DVD players on site.  The box office has a computerized ticketing system and patrons can call and see what seats are available for every performance and the bathrooms are much nicer.

In 1935 Caroline and Richard Fisher started a theater in a garden behind the Bonnie Brook Motel in Fish Creek.  In 1937 they moved the theater into the woods to a former boy’s camp with little amenities for the company beyond a bunk to sleep in and a cook to put food in their bellies.

In 1947 they had the great idea to pitch a tent to protect the audience from rain and in 1957, Caroline saw her dream come true when a permanent audience shell was installed.

The Fishers dedicated themselves, and the Players, to producing the best in live theater from dramas as “Hedda Gabler,” “Camille” and “Oedipus the King” to the comedies of Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward.

The tradition continues now in the 71st season with the Tony award-winning “Master Class,” a tour de-force look at opera diva Maria Callas played by Carmen Roman, our Sarah Bernhardt.  A classic opera singer is the first to take the stage this season, following the classic tradition set forth by the Fishers.

As some things stay the same, other things continue to grow at the Players, and I’m not just referring to the beautiful flower beds our groundskeeper/landscaper Bob Kayser works hard on each year.

This year we are continuing the dream of our founders and opening a new stage house and audience pavilion with a tiered audience floor providing better sightlines and much more comfortable, cushioned seats. No more creaky directors’ chairs!  Trust me on the seats. I’ve been test riding them.

Most changes come slowly, so having a new theater in the exact same spot as the old may seem sudden to some patrons. No more row P.

But when patrons arrive on property and see the new better-lit paved parking areas and the beer garden that still sells beverages by the shore, they realize they can still watch the spectacular sunsets over the bay before settling into the new theater where they’ll freely move about the aisle.  They’ll sit and notice that they don’t have to stretch their necks to see around the person in front of them to see the very talented professional actors on stage.  I think everyone agrees this change is for the better.

“Master Class” will be on stage through July 9, and you are welcome to see the changes for yourself. For tickets please visit our website at or phone the box office at 920-868-3287. Perhaps I’ll see you by the bay, where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine!

Audra Baakari Boyle is the Players Business Manager and has been with the company for an eventful 12 seasons.